As a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Kanto and Tohoku regions of Japan have been suffering a serious electricity shortage.  It is reported that this summer, electric power companies in these regions will possibly implement a “planned outage”, which means an outage intentionally implemented in designated areas during certain periods of time for the purpose of avoiding a massive blackout.  In March, Tokyo Electric Power Company instituted “planned outages” in many areas in the Kanto region, which resulted in confusion among residents in those areas.  Considering the risk of a massive blackout, the Japanese government has decided to legally obligate companies which consume significant electricity to cut their maximum daytime power consumption this summer by 15% compared to their 2010 levels.  Additionally, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has undertaken intensive public relations activities urging companies to implement measures to reduce electricity consumption.  In response, major companies are attempting to save on electricity and decentralize power consumption by changing or shortening business hours, changing non-business days, implementing a long-term suspension among other measures.

It is expected that a lot of electricity will be needed from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays during the summer.  So, companies are trying to save on power consumption during those hours by changing beginning and finishing times of work and days on which holidays are taken.  For example, beginning on July 1, Toyota Motor Corporation changed holidays from Saturdays and Sundays to Thursdays and Fridays for the period of July to September.  In general, companies stipulate beginning and finishing times of work and days on which holidays are taken in the companies’ “work rules”.  The “work rules” are rules providing for key labor terms and conditions, and employers who usually have ten or more employees are legally required to prepare such work rules.  In order to change beginning and finishing times of work and days on which holidays are taken, companies need to:  (i) have discussions with the representatives of employees; (ii) amend the work rules after hearing the representatives’ opinions; and (iii) file amendments to the work rules with the relevant administrative agencies.

In Japan, most companies give employees several days of vacation (“Bon vacation” in Japanese) in mid-August every year and it is expected that power consumption will widely decline during this period.  In order to decentralize power consumption, some companies plan to operate as usual during that period and instead give employees vacation at other times during the summer.  Some companies plan to give employees a longer vacation than normal.  For example, it is reported that Sony Corporation plans to implement a blanket vacation period of one week for each its workplaces in August.  It is so-called “planned annual leave” that enables those plans.  In principle, companies are legally required to allow employees to take annual paid leave when the employees would like take such leave.  Exceptionally, a company may make employees use part of their annual paid leave in accordance with a plan established by the company if:  (i) the representative of the employees has agreed to do so; and (ii) the company has filed such agreement with the relevant administrative agency.

Regulations on working hours, holidays and annual paid leave in Japan are very strict for companies.  Companies are not granted any special treatment in connection with the regulations stated above, even in the face of the serious electricity shortage after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and are struggling to seek employees’ cooperation and understanding to cope with the situation.